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Ask an IT Guy: Is Guest WiFi Safe for Your Network? Blog Feature
Accent Computer Solutions

By: Accent Computer Solutions on July 12th, 2017

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Ask an IT Guy: Is Guest WiFi Safe for Your Network?

Cyber Security | Ask An IT Guy

Coffee has been bested by WiFi – the world officially runs on wireless internet access.

I don’t say this lightly, but the other day I noticed that a gas station offered free guest WiFi. And at that moment, I realized mobility is key to making your customers happy.

I’m willing to bet that you’d have to think hard about the last time you went somewhere that DIDN’T offer public WiFi.

As a small to mid-size business, creating a separate network for customers or office visitors to use could be beneficial.

WiFi might seem like an easy feat. But there are some important things to consider when setting up a network.

Jonathan Barger, CIO (Chief Information Officer) at Accent Computer Solutions, Inc. spoke to us about why creating a separate environment for your guest WiFi is the best way to protect your company.

Protect Your Network with Separate Access for Guests

Giving guests access to your WiFi network seems like a simple solution, but it can have unintended consequences. You see, if everyone has access to the main network, it leaves your company's network vulnerable to hacking and data theft. 

“The number one thing to avoid as the WiFi host is giving out your secure network password. You want to make sure that none of your guests have access to your company data. A good wireless access point can create a separate network for guest.  And if your guests were clever enough to find your server, they wouldn’t be able to access it from this connection.”

The guest network should be locked down. Only allow access to what is absolutely necessary.

Setting Up a Guest WiFi Network

Your guest WiFi network is segmented from the office network. This way the company's network is not visible or accessible to your guests. This keeps your office network safe while giving your guests access to the internet.

“It’s not difficult to configure if you have the right equipment. You need switches, access points, and firewalls that are capable of drawing secure lines. If you don’t have that equipment, then there is no way to set it up right.

I caution you not to rig this together with "metaphorical duct tape." Any "workaround" will only leave you vulnerable. When you have the proper equipment for your network, we can set it up for the vast majority of our clients easily."

Basically, if you are going to offer guest WiFi, it’s vital that it be on a different network than anything internal. In most cases, your current WiFi network can create a guest network without new hardware. Your IT personnel can set this up for you by enabling the feature on your access point or router. 

In the off-chance that you do need different hardware to support this function, there are many options. Again, this is not the time to skimp. Don't leave your network open to hackers by compromising IT security.

Firewalls and Web Filtering on Guest WiFi

Web filtering for the guest WiFi should be as restrictive as your regular web filtering policy. The guest WiFi is separate from the organization’s network, but you need the same level of IT security. This includes restricting access to sites that contain harmful content or hacking suspicions.

“Content filtering is setup for security reasons. It's a separate network, but it’s still connected to your business. It’s important to know which sites to block traffic from. The non-work-related sites especially need to be monitored. By default, content filtering software blocks illegal activity sites and known malware sites.  When we’re setting it up for clients, we have conversations about standards and problematic issues. Anything beyond that is up to the customer; we don’t impose any rules.”

Your firewall also restricts access from the guest WiFi to the company's network. If you must grant limited access to the organization’s network, it's done through the firewall.

Example: If a guest WiFi user needs a printer on the company's network, this can be configured on the firewall.

But be careful. Giving too much access will compromise your network security. Your IT support provider can help you safely allow your guests limited access.

Whatever your reason to have guest WiFi, it has never been more important to protect yourself from potential threats. Work with your IT support provider to build a secure guest WiFi network for your customers. At the end of the day if your business gets hacked, it won’t matter if you can offer free WiFi or not. Take these simple, yet effective steps to secure your company today.   

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Related: Ask an IT Guy: Which Internet Service Is Best for My Business?

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About Accent Computer Solutions

Accent Computer Solutions, Inc. is a managed IT services and IT support provider, serving businesses with 30-500 employees throughout Southern California. The company is headquartered in Rancho Cucamonga, California, with IT professionals strategically located throughout San Bernardino, Riverside, Los Angeles, and Orange Counties, as well as Arizona, Texas, and Louisiana.

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